Daily News Miner

Associated Press

July 10, 1993


MADRID, Spain—Spaniards are teaching their dogs a very new trick. Dogs and cats in Spain's largest cities must now undergo microchip implants to make it easier for authorities to reunite lost pets with their owners and track down those who would rather abandon Lassie or Sheba than pay a sitter.

Four of Spain's 17 regions now require dog and cat owners to identify their pets with the chips or tattoos — apparently the only such laws in western Europe or North America.

Each chip carries a code that matches a file in a regional computer. Eventually those computers will be linked together — a necessity since a hound with serious wanderlust can rove as far as 100 miles in a day.

The original purpose of the Madrid law —like statutes covering such cities as Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao and Pamplona - was to monitor rabies vaccination rates and keep tabs on the pet population.

But the benefits for pets and their owners are more real than computerized public-health statistics. The Madrid law went into effect six months ago, and 50,000 cats and dogs have already been "chipped" — a relatively painless process (humans say) in which the flea-sized capsule is injected into the animal's neck for about $40.

Officials expect 100,000 chips implanted by year's end, with the vast majority of owners choosing chips over tattoos, which cost more and require that the animal be anesthetized.

If a pooch goes wandering or is let loose by vacation-bound owners, a vet, dogcatcher or police officer can read its chip with an electronic scanner much the same way a supermarket cashier rings up a bag of dog food.

Take Blackie, a Belgian shepherd that indulges in four day walkabouts when the spirit moves him.

Last month, a kennel employee found Blackie 12 miles from his suburban home. A quick scan and Blackie was soon back with his family.

Hutchinson said the chips do not infect or otherwise irritate the animal and will outlast even the most durable dog or cat. He hopes the chips will one day help trace such information as an animal's genealogy and health record.

Ranchers already use them to identify livestock in many countries, and European zoo keepers implant them in some animals.

The system is used on pets on a voluntary basis in Norway, Portugal, Great Britain, Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands.

In the United States, a few community groups, shelters, and vets have started small voluntary programs in New York City and northern California.

Organizers of this year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race implanted chips in the hundreds of dogs that ran in the 1,100-mile trek across Alaska. The idea was to prevent illegal attempts to substitute dogs.

But unlike in Spain, there are several brands of chips in the United States and scanners don't read all of them, slowing the system's growth.

The Humane Society of the United States has held off endorsing microchipping of animals in hopes that American companies will develop a universal microchipping system, said spokeswoman Rachel Lamb.